From a letter found in the archives of the Fairfield Traveling Circus, marked “return to sender.”
When I ran away to join the circus, I thought I’d be free of the shackles of responsibility. After all, if I’d wanted to continue arbitrating people’s petty domestic conflicts I would have remained on the bench. One assumes when one pulls up stakes to be ringmaster in a traveling show, one leaves all that behind them. However, it seems not to be the case.
My central position in the organization, combined with an unfortunate disclosure of my previous employment, has led to several individuals approaching me to mediate disputes. For instance, the elastic man accused our resident strongman of pinching his best shirt and stretching it out. While that particular case turned out to be nothing to tie yourself up in knots about, there have been more serious circumstances as well. Like the intriguing events of just this week, for example.
Clarice, despite what you may have heard regarding the commiseration among circus-folk, there is indeed a great deal of rivalry between factions under the big top. The rope walkers are always at odds with the acrobats over rehearsal time. The jugglers are always throwing things at the clowns, which results in hilarious but often destructive retaliations. And the sideshow acts spend their downtime taking their inferiority complexes out on everyone. It takes a great deal of effort to keep a circus family from disintegrating into dysfunction.
So when the star aerial performer approached me in a rage, I was not altogether taken by surprise. We were soon joined by the passionate lion tamer, who denied all allegations which were swung his way. As it turns out, the whole affair was over a young lady, a new addition to the troupe who worked the turnstiles. I admit, she must have turned heads as well. But please forgive my vulgarity. The point of the matter was each of the men believed the young woman was theirs to dalliance.
The confrontation became bombastic, and soon other performers were taking sides in the center ring as the two men stood arguing. I had to do something to keep the peace! So I called for our resident magician with instructions to bring some specific tools of his trade. When he arrived I told the aerialist and lion tamer if they did not desist I would rule thus: The young woman would be cut in half by the magician and they would each lay claim to their dissected portion.
Clarice, you should have seen the look on the young magician’s face! He’s a demure, nervous thing, not at all confident in his abilities. I’m not quite sure where we came up with him. Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead and he turned a magnificent shade of purple. I thought he would faint right there in front of everyone!
The reaction of the complainants, however, was less wholesome. The aerialist scoffed and said it would be better than besmirching his honor by allowing “that dirty animal wrangling man” to take off with her. The tamer muttered an inquiry concerning which half he would get. What I had hoped would be a Saulistic moment of wisdom and reason turned into an even bigger brouhaha!
Feeling as though my bluff had been called, I summoned the young lady in question. I explained the unfortunate state of affairs and the appalling predicament in which I found myself. I fully expected her to protest, of course, but a strange look came over her face. She fixed her eyes first on the aerialist, then the lion tamer. Each shrunk under her gaze. She turned to the magician, who by now was little more than a puddle of a man, and smiled. Then she informed me, with a confident air, that she accepted her fate and willingly gave herself up to my judgment if it would heal the unfortunate rift which was forming in our community.
Imagine my relief, Clarice! I had the center ring cleared with haste so the sentence could be carried out. The magician set up his table, which was more like a large black box. The young lady stepped up and whispered something into his ear before lying down inside. Wide-eyed, the magician closed the box around her and covered the entire apparatus with a white sheet. Then, instead of pulling out a saw, or an ax, or even a sharpened stick, the young man gurgled some magic words and whipped the sheet into the air. As it fell around him, his shape melted away beneath it.
The aerialist and lion tamer both rushed to the black box in the center of the ring. They ripped it open to find -- nothing! Clarice, both the young lady and the magician had disappeared!
The entire company was aghast. There was an uproar and a search to find them commenced. The grounds were uprooted stem to stern, but neither of them were found. I thought perhaps this would end the quarrel, albeit in a most unexpected way. However, the aerialist and lion tamer accused each other of treachery and the animosity continued -- even in the young lady’s absence!
I might have been entrenched in the conflict for good had it not been for the magician’s reappearance this evening. He walked back into camp with his tail between his legs. When interrogated he gave very little up, except to say the young woman, whose name was Susan, had taken herself far away and was safe from my dissecting discernment. He also delivered to my employer several human resource complaints, designed and drafted by her, along with news of an impending lawsuit.
All this to say, Clarice, I’ll be coming home soon! My termination was certainly a blessing in disguise because now I can return to you, my beloved. Surely you will forgive me for my own dalliance -- with the excitement of the road and a life on the stage -- and take me back into your arms! I look forward to my days basking in your care, instead of struggling and arguing with circus compatriots. Please meet me at the train station on Friday. I’ll be on the 10:45. With love and gratitude…